Alexandre Lacazette's early strike helped us to a 1-0 win over Qarabag FK on Thursday night - but what did we learn from our Europa League outing?
A HAPPY RETURN
Laurent Koscielny has been hungry for first-team football ever since he started his long rehabilitation on that awful night in Madrid. A ruptured Achilles ruled him out of the rest of that Europa League semi-final, the rest of the season and, worst of all, the World Cup that France won. Laurent’s long wait ended when he led the team out against Qarabag and, although it was a low-key game, it meant the world to him. The captain received a rousing reception - “He’s back!” exclaimed stadium announcer Paul Burrell - and then got down to work. Laurent wasn’t stretched a great deal but he was his usual alert, quick-thinking self, cutting out one dangerous through-ball and making a firm challenge to deny Qarabag on one of their rare forays in our defensive third. Unspectacular but steady for 72 minutes - exactly what Laurent needed as he eases himself back to his best.
A HAPPY RETURN II
With nothing but pride at stake, you might have expected Mesut Ozil to sit this one out. But Unai Emery wanted our playmaker to pick up some sharpness after five games out with a back problem, and it turned out to be a useful workout. Many of our true moments of quality came from Mesut - a deft early touch to leave his marker standing, some neat footwork to take him past another opponent, and then alertness to seize onto a loose ball and drive at the Qarabag defence. To nobody’s surprise, Mesut was the architect of our goal. Eddie Nketiah’s graft won us the ball back, Mesut picked out Alex Lacazette with a perfectly-threaded through-ball, and the Frenchman did the rest.
SAKA STEPS UP
Bukayo Saka looked dangerous on his first-team debut - against Vorskla in Kiev last month - and he was given his first senior start here. It was a step up in class for the teenager and at times he was kept quiet by a determined Qarabag defence. But every time Bukayo found space, he made a difference. He looked at his best in those pockets just outside the edge of the area, and it was from this range that he almost opened the scoring with a curling shot that Vagner saved. Bukayo went even closer in the second half, getting into the six-yard box to poke an effort just wide. As the game wore on Bukayo’s pace and trickery gave Qarabag more problems, and he would have had an assist if the offside flag hadn’t denied Eddie Nketiah.
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